YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — Jury selection begins Monday in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court for a former Poland Township police officer accused of sexual misconduct with a Seminary High School student.
Jurors will report to the courtroom of Judge John Durkin to be selected to hear the case against Steven Kent, 54, who faces three counts of sexual battery and a single count of tampering with evidence.
Kent is also an Austintown Township trustee.
The case is being prosecuted by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office to avoid any conflicts of interest.
Just before jurors were called in, Judge Durkin denied a motion by defense attorney John Juhasz to dismiss the three sexual battery counts because he said not all of the elements of the crimes Kent is accused of committing were present in the indictment.
Assistant Attorney General Kara Keating said that rules allow for prosecutors to amend the indictment during the trial as long as the “identity or name of the crime is not charged.”
Keating made a motion to amend the indictment to include the proper language, which Judge Durkin sustained.
Kent is accused of engaging in sexual conduct on April 29 or 30, 2021; May 20, 2021; and May 31 or June 1, 2021, while he was a person of authority employed by a school that the victim in the case attended.
The tampering with evidence charge accuses Kent of altering, hiding or destroying documents on June 6, 2021, while knowing that an official investigation took place.
Kent was indicted in April 2022.
Investigators have cell phone evidence of texts and messages between Kent and the victim. The defense tried to have those conversations excluded, but Judge Durkin allowed them to be used during trial.
Juhasz has also asked for a change of venue, saying the publicity surrounding the case will make it hard to seat an impartial jury. Prosecutors have objected, saying a change of venue is not necessary.
Judge Durkin is taking the matter under advisement. Typically, attempts are made to seat a jury first and a change of venue is then considered if it is hard to find enough jurors who have not heard of the case.